Remembering… Remembering

How wonderful is the month of May?  Its thirty-one days are all too short, even as February’s twenty-eight days are far too long.  It is a month of moderate temperatures and new growth everywhere — flora and fauna.  A perfect picture of May would be a spotted fawn peering out from a mélange of ferns, trilliums and dogwood.   There are so many shades of green as the trees and shrubs leaf out, and many of my favorite plants are in bloom. The very air of May is fragrant.  We planted potatoes last week, and will plant seeds soon, but most important, May is a marvelous time for sitting outside and just drinking in the fresh air and Vitamin D.

May, in many schools, is prom month.  A friend who is a professional creator of wonderful clothes as well as quilts, has been sewing prom gowns for two months now.  In my school the entire high school student body was welcome at the two annual formal dances; one held in December (Senior Ball) and the other in April or May (Junior Prom). No limos and no hotel ball- rooms.  The class responsible transformed the gym into an unrecognizable delight and hired the band.  I was looking back on these occasions in my mind, trying to remember who I went with and what I wore.  I remembered the anticipation of being asked to the dance, the excitement of getting ready and the romance of getting a corsage and of just being part of the music and the night.  I had a little trouble recalling my escorts but I clearly remember the dresses.   We purchased one or two —- not at the exorbitant prices of today.  My first gown was a frothy pink chiffon with puffed sleeves and a sweetheart neckline.  My mother made one or two others and I inherited a couple from my generous sister-in-law.  I especially remember one Mother-crafted gown; it was a heavy white fabric shot with gold threads.  And she made a red velvet cummerbund for it.  The dress is long-gone, but the cummerbund lives on, in all its richness, in the kiddie’s dress-up box.  

Far distant from the froth of proms and corsages, but also part of May, Memorial Day reminds us to be remembering those who have given years of their lives in service for this country, and sometimes, in actuality, their whole lives.  The PBS annual program is a fine reminder.  We remember too, those in our own families who have gone on before us.  Two of my brothers were in WWII but they did not speak — at least to their younger sister — of those days.  Each of them did however, teach me to pick out their particular armed services anthems on the piano — the Marines’ “From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli….” and the Army “As the Caissons Go Rolling Along”.  There is always a lot of “glorifying” around wars, and certainly many brave deeds occur, but basically, war is a dreadful experience; that too often seems to discard human decency in the process and leads to lasting trauma.  I think that as we profess gratitude to our defenders, it could be best shown by finding another way to settle differences and stem imperialism.  However, as long as we humans make decisions based on greed, nationalism and the desire for power —- and act out our volatile emotions, I suppose wars will continue to sacrifice our young men and women on the altar of humanity’s dark side.  

When people for whom we care, die, one of the issues with which we often struggle, is regret.  I have heard people say: “I wish I had told them….” or “I said I couldn’t forgive them then, but….” or “There are so many things I wish that I’d said before they died.”  I grew up in a family that wasn’t exactly exuberant in expressing emotion and feelings.  My father was of Scottish and German heritage; stoic!  Crying was not encouraged and I can’t even imagine having thrown a temper tantrum.   There was no doubt that we all loved each other but we didn’t express it with the ease that family does now.  Looking backward, I certainly wish that I’d told family members, now gone, how much they meant to me.  I hope that somewhere in eternity, they know that.

The Women’s study group of which I am a part has had considerable conversation about forgiving.  We all have a collection of “if onlys…”.  Cleansing our hearts of grievous hurts is sometimes a hard and a lengthy process.  “But they don’t deserve to be forgiven!” is what we hear most often.  And when we talk about what forgiveness really is, we find that it is really about us —- not them.

Over the years I’ve had to contemplate forgiving (or not forgiving) more than a few times.  Haven’t we all?   Lapses in judgement when someone was doing the best they knew how, or even carelessness, is easier to forgive than deliberate hurts.  One situation has taken years. Someone injured not me, but my children, indelibly and, as far as I know, without remorse.  I went through many stages and several years before I could find resolution for that one.  Other women in the group had equally difficult issues facing them, from parental neglect to friendship betrayal to abuse of some kind.  How does one forgive such deeply scarring behavior?

It really comes down to one’s definition of forgiveness.  Forgiveness does not mean that we condone whatever it is the other person has done.  Forgivenessdoesn’tmean excusing behavior that is hurtful.  Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily make everything hunky-dory.  But forgiveness IS realizing that judgement and consequences are not mine to determine.  Forgiveness frees me from a corrosive burden of anger and leaves the consequences of another’s behavior up to God (or Karma – or Fate -whichever one calls a power outside ourselves).  Forgiveness does not mean that we must continue a relationship with that person if it would continue the hurt.   Forgiveness is explained well in this poem: Decide to forgive —–For resentment is negative —- Resentment is poisonous —Resentment diminishes and devours the self.  Be the first to forgive  — to take the first step ———-Do not wait for others to forgive for by forgiving you become the master of fate — the fashioner of life —- the doer of miracles.  To forgive is the highest form of love.  In return you will receive untold peace and happiness.”  Robert Muller*

Remembering those we’ve loved, respected and — hopefully — forgiven is p art of life.  When I was a child, my mother took me to the cemetery in Holly, New York, where many of her family members were buried.  As we left flowers on each grave, she would tell me stories of who they were and her memories of them.  Putting flowers on the graves of loved ones has been a long-lived custom that I think is waning.   One of the LM. Montgomery** short stories speaks of how, each year, families took special care of graves, trimming grass and planting flowers; it was a community custom.  But we are a mobile culture and often live nowhere near what used to be family cemeteries.  Kerm and I would have to travel to Holly, to Fairport, to Victor, to Howard, to Bath and Hornell.  We already know that our own permanent resting places will be difficult to access.  We’ve chosen a “green cemetery” at the end of a dirt road up in the hills of Van Etten/ Newfield.  But we hope our stories —the essence of who we are, will linger on with our family and friends.

Remembering is a fine thing, but being in the moment is the way to live with happiness and gratitude.  The longer, beautiful days of May are a blessing.  The showers and sunshine have created lush greenery — weeds as well as desired plants.  Our war with goutweed, garlic mustard, ground ivy and deep-rooted dock continues.  We know we are in good company!  It is a happy feeling to experience and share those things that keep us connected —- animals, foods, gardening, music, dancing and stories.  It is also good to let new wonders into our lives.  May is all about new life and I like this quotation by Jessamyn West***:  “If I were to join a circle of any kind, it would be a circle that required its members to try something new at least once a month.  The new thing could be very inconsequential; steak for breakfast, frog hunting, walking on stilts, memorizing a stanza of poetry or, creating a stanza of poetry. It could be staying up outdoors all night, making up a dance and dancing it, speaking to a stranger, chinning yourself, milking a goat —anything not ordinarily done.”   Whatever you do with the rest of this month of May, may it be something that brings new life to you, sunshine to your body and freshness to your thinking.

Carol writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at:

*Robert Muller — I am not sure about this source; there are several Robert Mullers, but I am thinking it must be the man born in Belgium in 1923.  He has spent most of his life working for world peace, developed something called the World Core Curriculum and was once considered for Secretary General of the United Nations.

**L.M. Montgomery — a resident of Prince Edward Island who wrote the popular Anne of Green Gables stories 1874-1942.                                                           

***Jessamyn West — American author, creator of short stories and novels the most famous being “Friendly Persuasion”.  Jessamyn West was a Quaker.  1902 -1984.